Every fall during the holiday of Sukkot, a remarkable gathering takes place in the seaside city of Akko: the Festival of Alternative Israeli Theatre.
The old city of Akko is one of Israel’s more heterogeneously populated urban areas, a 70–30 percent mix of Jews to Arabs (coexisting for the most part harmoniously but sometimes—perhaps it goes without saying—in friction). It is a fascinating architectural and cultural hodgepodge, and its long history offers a humbling lesson in the transitory nature of power and dominion. The city provides a stunning physical setting for a gathering of artists.
Akko’s performing-arts festival, founded in 1980, every year features a competition for original plays, along with local and foreign theater productions and open-air theatrical shows as well as concerts, street performances, crafts workshops, acrobatics, and dance. Audiences flock in the thousands from all parts of Israel. The going, of course, is not always easy: funding is scarce, and in 2008 the festival was postponed by two months due to the threat of violent clashes. In general, though, the gathering has become a symbol of coexistence between the city’s Jewish and Arab inhabitants. Each year’s program showcases works by Arab playwrights and troupes, along with performances by music ensembles. Projects led by theater professionals provide training for local Arab and Jewish teens, including immigrant youth.
The Festival of Alternative Israeli Theatre has served as an eye-opener to many about the provocative world of edgy performance and the potentials of collaboration.